With Sharjah’s economy dominated by non-oil and gas activities, the industry sector is a major part of the business fabric in the UAE’s third-largest emirate. While small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) make up the lion’s share of Sharjah’s industrial employers, larger enterprises are also present, with Sharjah offering considerable incentives to manufacturers and other industrial outfits that are located within its borders.

In cooperation and coordination with the UAE federal authorities, the emirate is rolling out ambitious plans to attract more investment in industry. Regulation is also being strengthened, as the sector’s players seek to align their operations with the country’s target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, and ensure growth is environmentally and socially sustainable.

Structure & Oversight

As one of the UAE’s seven emirates, Sharjah is subject to both federal laws and regulations, and its own legal and administrative rules. The Ministry of Industry and Advanced Technology (MIAT), established in July 2020, is a key institution at the federal level. It unites the previous Ministry of Advanced Technology, the Emirates Authority for Standardisation and Metrology, and the industrial sector team from the federal Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure. The MIAT is tasked with developing the UAE’s industry sector across the emirates. It has various units under its umbrella, including the Ministry of State for Public Education and Advanced Technology. The entity comprises departments for advanced science and technology, along with dedicated teams promoting the adoption of new breakthroughs by the private and public sectors.

In addition, the MIAT has an industrial growth arm, comprising the Department for Industrial Policies and Legislation and the Department of National Added Value. There is also an industrial accelerators arm, whose investment office aims to bring fresh investment into the sector. In conformity services, meanwhile, the ministry prepares and updates legislation, manuals and specifications of the metrology assessment system, as well as monitors and implements sectoral standards. These standards are issued by the standards and legislation body of the ministry, which works through a number of technical committees and specialised working groups. This group also oversees the UAE’s conformity with World Trade Organisation (WTO) standards, submitting new benchmarks to the WTO for evaluation.

The federal Ministry of Economy (MoE) works to develop the UAE’s non-oil sector. The MoE’s objective is to increase the contribution and size of the country’s SMEs, as well as boost foreign direct investment (FDI) in future-oriented sectors such as ICT. The MoE is also tasked with developing the UAE’s position in the global entrepreneurship and innovation rankings.

The Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation (MoHRE) sets many federal labour regulations, including the Emiratisation policy, which requires each industry employ a set percentage of UAE nationals, both overall and within specific employment grades. In this regard, in March 2023 the MoHRE and MIAT, along with the Emirati Talent Competitiveness Council, launched the Industrialist Programme to support the industry sector in recruiting more UAE national talent. As of January 2023 the Emiratisation rate for companies outside free zones with more than 50 workers was 2% of their in-country workforce. This rate is set to increase by 2% annually from 2023 to 2026, when 10% of the workforce must be Emirati under the current plans. Starting in 2024 companies in the manufacturing sector and have 20-50 workers will be required to hire at least one UAE citizen, increasing to two citizens from 2025.

Local Landscape

While the MoE and the MIAT set overall policy and objectives for the country, within the emirate the Sharjah Economic Development Department (SEDD) is the key body for the sector. This government entity contains agencies covering areas such as economic planning and studies, industrial and commercial affairs, consumer control and protection. SEDD collaborates with federal agencies and institutions to implement nationwide policies in the industrial area and to raise local business awareness of the most recent developments in UAE regulations.

SEDD has a number of affiliated agencies working with the sector, including the Sharjah Foundation to Support Pioneering Entrepreneurs, known as RUWAD. RUWAD encourages local business start-ups, and SMEs in particular, offering grants and incentives for projects across the economy. These incentives are organised via programmes like the Itqan initiative to commercialise university projects, the Business Stars Programme to encourage entrepreneurship in schools, and a mini-masters and diploma in industrial entrepreneurship — the first such programme in the Arab world.

RUWAD helps businesses obtain licences in areas it wishes to develop. Examples include Middle East Precision Equipment IND, which manufactures high-precision computer numerical control systems; Hawa Industrial, which manufactures kitchens, wardrobes, counters, and TV units; and Al Bayader International, which manufactures food packaging solutions. All are members of RUWAD and have benefitted from its support. Further agencies include the Sharjah Entrepreneurship Centre, known as Sheraa, which provides support for start-ups and innovators; the Sharjah Investment and Development Authority, or Shurooq, which supports a range of projects in the emirate; and the Sharjah FDI office, Invest in Sharjah, which, along with the Sharjah Investors Services Centre, or SAEED, provides assistance to investors looking to grow their business in the emirate.


Private and public sectors are brought together by the Sharjah Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCI), a body with numerous sector-specific business groups like the Industries Sector Business Group, and the Foodstuff Trade and Industry Sector Business Group. Business councils under the SCCI umbrella include one for businesses and professionals from India, and one for Chinese investment and promotion. Indeed, Sharjah hosts 1225 Chinese companies, with 245 based in the emirate’s free zones.

The SCCI supports the Sharjah Exports Development Centre, designed to promote and assist locally based firms with GCC and international export marketing and financial capacity building. The latter can include assistance with financing access from UAE banks. These lenders include Emirates Development Bank, which has recently focused on SME support, lending some Dh1.8bn ($489.9m) to SMEs in 2022 alone — up 387% from 2021. Promotion and trade for industries is also the business of Expo Centre Sharjah, the emirate’s major exhibitions and networking facility.

Other agencies that are important for manufacturers and industrialists include the urban planning, road and transport departments; local municipal authorities; and the Environment and Protected Areas Authority, which works in cooperation with the UAE’s Ministry of Climate Change and Environment.

In The Zone

There are several free zone authorities, and Sharjah prides itself on the variety of these duty-free areas in the emirate. The zones have proven popular with industry players, and include the Sharjah Airport International Free Zone (SAIF Zone); the Hamriyah Free Zone; Sharjah Media City, known as Shams; University City; Publishing City, or SPC, the Sharjah Research Technology and Innovation Park (SRTIP); and Sharjah Healthcare City. Each zone has its own authority, along with the governmental Sharjah Ports, Customs and Free Zones Authority. Free zones offer benefits to firms that set up businesses at the complexes, including the possibility of 100% foreign ownership, complete exemption from corporate and personal income taxes, 100% exemption of duties on imports and exports, and a one-stop shop for licensing and registering.

Changes to the federal commercial companies law in 2020 and 2021 allow 100% foreign ownership of some companies outside the free zones. The companies must be engaged in certain non-proscribed activities to benefit from this change. A list of proscribed activities — including most financial services, for example — is maintained by the SEDD and the federal authorities.

The majority of Sharjah’s 33 free zones are in the Sharjah City municipal area, where most of the emirate’s inhabitants live. The area includes Sharjah International Airport; Sharjah’s main maritime gateway, Port Khalid; and its main industrial area, mostly located on either side of the Maliha Road. Some 18 sub-zones are located in this area, with other industrial neighbourhoods stretching along the Dubai-Sharjah border and in the Muwailih neighbourhood, east of the E311 motorway.

The port and airport serve the emirate’s Central Region, which has a total of five industrial areas. The airport and port are easily accessed from the Arabian Sea coastal regions of Khorfakkan, Kalba and Dibba Al Hisn. Khorfakkan has two industrial areas — Zubarah and Al Haray — along with the Port of Khorfakkan, one of the world’s top-10 most productive ports. Kalba, meanwhile, has two industrial areas and Dibba Al Hisn has the Al Raq Industrial Area.

From an industrial standpoint, the SAIF Zone and Hamriyah are the most popular free zones. Al Saja’a Industrial Oasis, also known as Emirates Industrial City, a project by the emirate’s investment arm Sharjah Asset Management, is now a destination site for the sector. It has 353 plots for industrial businesses. SRTIP is also a leading area for high-tech and innovative industries, with the park’s Sharjah Advanced Industry Accelerator (SAIA) programme in its fourth year in 2023. The programme offers $50,000 to selected start-ups, along with advisory services from established businesses and access to the park’s advanced manufacturing facility for fast prototyping. The SAIA’s 2023 round of applications attracted over 3500 applications from 40 countries.

Meanwhile, the authorities are channelling industry sub-sectors to municipalities where facilities are most appropriate. Hamriyah is the focus for petrochemical, petroleum and natural gas industries, while Sharjah City has a re-export and private sector free zone theme. On the Arabian Sea coast, Khorfakkan and Kalba have a focus on the re-export of aggregate industries, while Al Dhaid, Al Batayeh, Mleiha and Dibba Al Hisn are centres for food and agricultural industries.

Plans & Programmes

At the federal level, the UAE follows the UAE Centennial 2071 plan’s long-term vision. It sets out four pillars on which the country’s other development programmes rest: a future-focused government; excellent education; a diversified knowledge economy; and a happy and cohesive society.

A variety of strategies and plans have been developed for the medium and short term. Operation 300bn, launched in 2021, aims to boost the sector’s contribution to the UAE’s GDP from Dh133bn ($36.2bn) to Dh300bn ($81.7bn) by 2031. The plan has five elements: to develop the country’s industry sector; increase its in-country value (ICV); establish the UAE as a global centre for future industries; build the reputation of the UAE’s industrial products through export promotion; and create quality job opportunities in the sector.

From those goals, 17 initiatives have been established, ranging from developing the Made in the Emirates brand to advancing digital transformation, and from catalysing Fourth Industrial Revolution adoption to establishing an integrated research and development ecosystem. In addition, the initiatives target increased productivity, job creation and economic contribution from the industrial sector. Several industries are targeted for support under the programme: pharmaceuticals, electrical equipment and electronics; rubber and plastics; medical and space technology; and machinery.


Operation 300bn has seen notable successes. In 2022 the MIAT issued 263 industrial licences nationwide, up 20% from 2021. The ICV programme saw Dh53bn ($14.4bn) redirected into the UAE economy, up 25% from the previous year. According to the UN Industrial Development Organisation, the sector’s 2022 contribution to GDP stood at Dh188bn ($51.2bn).

In February 2023 the MIAT announced that according to the Make it in the Emirates campaign — part of Operation 300bn — some 300 new products could be manufactured within the UAE over the following decade if Dh110bn ($29.9bn) was invested across 11 segments. By February 2023 industrial companies had signed some 19 letters of intent to invest around Dh3.1bn ($843.8m) in new, locally manufactured products.

The Entrepreneurial Nation 2.0 initiative is another UAE-wide programme relevant to many Sharjah-based industries. The initiative, launched by the federal government in November 2022, has a target of developing more than 8000 SMEs and start-ups by 2030. It follows Entrepreneurial Nation 1.0, established in 2021, which saw contributions of approximately Dh20m ($5.4m) from the private sector, funding 10 new programmes for SME and start-up support.

In Sharjah, the SEDD is implementing its 2022-24 strategic plan. Aligned with federal plans, it aims to develop a more competitive, diversified and sustainable economy that is welcoming to national and international businesses. Sharjah plans to do so in part by boosting its high-tech and advanced industries, using robotics, artificial intelligence and 3D printing to enhance its specialist and precision engineering sub-sectors.

Within this framework, the Sharjah Industrial Guide, a unified electronic platform for industrial companies that includes licensing procedures and services, was launched. In addition, the emirate now offers smallspace industrial lands for SMEs and incentives for industry sector players, such as up to 50% discounts on fees for issuing industrial licences. The SEDD also has its own localisation campaign, Made in Sharjah with Pride, to promote local companies’ products.


The latest developments build on a long tradition of support for industry. Indeed, the UAE’s first industrial estates in the 1970s were located in the emirate. As of late 2023 Sharjah had 33 industrial zones, including Hamriyah and the Al Saja’a Industrial Oasis. According to Invest in Sharjah, the emirate is responsible for one-third of the UAE’s manufacturing output, although it accounts for 19.1% of the UAE’s population. Demonstrating industry’s importance to the emirate, over 150,000 of Sharjah’s 1.8m total populace work in the Al Saja’a Industrial Oasis alone.

According to the SEDD, the manufacturing sector contributed an annual average of 16% to the emirate’s GDP between 2001 and 2022, amounting to Dh22bn ($6bn) in 2021 and Dh22.9bn ($6.2bn) in 2022. At the same time, the industry sector represents some 25% of total exports by volume, reaching Dh54bn ($14.7bn) in 2021, the most recent year for which data is available. This makes industry the emirate’s largest exporting sector. Industrial production in 2021 was Dh60.3bn ($16.4bn), demonstrating the importance of exports to the sector. Industrial production grew at 6.2% and 5.1% in 2020 and 2021, respectively.

According to the SEDD, in 2022 the top-three industrial segments were the manufacture of shaped metal products, accounting for 26.5% of sector activity; the manufacture of non-metallic products, with 10.4%; and other manufactured products, with 8.1%.


The year 2021 saw capital investment in industry grow by 21% to Dh3bn ($816.6m), with the share of investment in total fixed capital formation reaching about 7%. Provisional data from the Sharjah Department of Statistics and Community Development show that in 2021 manufacturing contributed Dh22.2bn ($6bn) to the emirate’s Dh130.5bn ($35.5bn) total GDP, or around 17%. This was up approximately 4.5% on the D21.2bn ($5.8bn) contribution recorded in 2020 when manufacturing accounted for a similar 17% of total GDP. In both years manufacturing was the second-largest sector in the economy in terms of its overall contribution to GDP; after wholesale and retail, repair of motor vehicles, and motorcycles. The latter sector depends to a significant extent on the local manufacturing sector for the supply of metallic and non-metallic products, as do other established major contributors to the economy, such as real estate, construction, transport and storage, and mining and quarrying.

In 2022 Sharjah begin implementing a four-day work week for public sector employees. According to government surveys, it has led to an 88% increase in productivity and a 46% decrease in sick leave. Because of such efforts, the emirate may be poised to become a global leader in addressing work-life balance.


As the UAE’s leading manufacturing and light industrial zone, Sharjah will continue to play a key role in the country’s diversification strategies for years to come. It will also benefit both from its own focus on innovation, investment and advanced technologies, and the federal government’s suite of industrial investment-boosting programmes.

Furthermore, Sharjah possesses a comprehensive supply chain of human resources, boasting high-level universities and research labs alongside a wealth of experienced entrepreneurs, SME leaders and larger businesses. At the same time, while uncertainty in the global economy remains and the impact of climate change grows, it will be important for Sharjah to remain nimble in its response to international economic trends. Nevertheless, Sharjah possesses a depth of talent when it comes to responding to and planning for changes. After all, the emirate was the UAE’s first destination for manufacturing and industry — a pedigree that gives it a distinct edge for future growth and development.